Toxoplasmosis In Pregnancy – What Does It Mean?

"Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can be dangerous and affect your baby. Find out what toxoplasmosis is, how it manifests itself and what you can do about it in this article!

What Is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by parasites. Normally, this disease is considered harmless and does not leave most people affected with any damage. Unless you are pregnant. This infection can lead to adverse effects in your unborn baby.

Single-cell parasites responsible for this infection are also known as “Toxoplasma gondii”. Toxoplasma infection is one of the most common infections worldwide. It is estimated that one third of all people have had contact with this parasite. Toxoplasmas live in mammals. Cattle, pigs, sheep as well as rats and mice are particularly affected. They are usually found in the muscle tissue of animals. However, in order to form eggs, the animals need a cat.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But it is only when a cat eats the infected meat that the parasites can enter the animal’s intestine and form eggs. These eggs are excreted by the cat in its feces and are highly infectious themselves after only a short time. These parasites are relatively resistant and can survive for a long time. In addition, they can be spread by wind or rain.

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How Does Infection With Toxoplasmosis Occur?

The way people contract the infection can be quite different. Raw or insufficiently heated meat and contaminated vegetables or fruit are among the most common causes.

In addition, contact with garden soil can also lead to infection if your cat has access to it. Direct contact with feces is also considered to trigger toxoplasmosis.

What Are The Symptoms Of Toxoplasmosis?

If you become infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, there is a risk that the toxoplasmas can be transmitted to your baby.

This risk of transmission is also called the transmission risk. The risk of infection is highest in the last trimester. In the first trimester, the risk of transmission is still 15% and can increase to 60% as the pregnancy progresses.

Normally, the course of the disease is relatively inconspicuous. In rare cases – for example with immunodeficiency – serious symptoms such as meningitis, carditis or retinitis may occur. If toxoplasmosis is detected as early as possible during pregnancy and treated consistently, your baby will be born without any damage. It only becomes dangerous if the disease is detected too late.

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How Dangerous Is Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy?

Whether and how this disease can affect your baby depends on the time of infection. To get an overview, we have summarized the most important information for you for each stage.

Toxoplasmosis In Early Pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis in early pregnancy is rare, but it is not less dangerous because of it, on the contrary. In the worst case, it can lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth, or cause severe sequelae. Among other things:

  • Enlargement of the spleen and liver (hepatosplenomegaly).
  • Jaundice (icterus).
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).
  • Pneumonia in the connective tissue layer (interstitial pneumonia).
  • Water retention in the skull (hydrocephalus).
  • Retinitis (chorioretinitis).
  • Calcifications inside the skull (intracranial calcifications).

Toxoplasmosis In Late Pregnancy

Although it is thought that an infection in late pregnancy leads to devastating consequences, the disease is initially hardly noticeable or not noticeable at all. The consequences of the disease do not manifest themselves until much later.

Many affected children only suffer from the damage caused by the disease over the course of the next 20 years. Possible consequential damages can occur:

  • Strabismus
  • Deafness
  • Epilepsy
  • Psychosomatic developmental delay.

How Toxoplasmosis Can Be Detected During Pregnancy

In Germany, testing for toxoplasmosis is only required if there is a (reasonable) suspicion of infection. However, testing is advisable for all women who are planning to have children or are already in early pregnancy. However, there is also a risk that you may become infected with toxoplasma during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about a new test!

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If your doctor detects toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the first step is to check if your baby has contracted the infection. The method most commonly used for this is amniocentesis. You have probably heard about this before. With this test, the amniotic fluid can be examined for the genetic material of the pathogen.

If there is an urgent suspicion of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, another method may be used in exceptional cases. Whether your baby has been infected can be determined with a blood test. Using ultrasound guidance, your doctor takes blood from the umbilical cord with a hollow needle. It is then examined in the laboratory for evidence of toxoplasma.

How Can Toxoplasmosis Be Treated During Pregnancy?

If there is an initial infection with toxoplasmosis in pregnancy, it must be treated immediately. Up to the 16th week of pregnancy, it is completely safe to take the antibiotic spiramycin.

If the infection is not noticed until a later stage of pregnancy, treatment with a combination of pyrimethamine (antiparasitic) and sulfadiazine (antibiotic) can be given. Your doctor may also advise you to take folinic acid to prevent severe bone marrow damage.

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The earlier an infection is detected, the better. Consequential damage to you and your baby can be avoided with consistent treatment.

Treatment Of Newborns

Newborns infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy also receive the three preparations that are also necessary for your treatment: Pyrimethamine, sulfadiazine, and folinic acid.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to say in general how long the disease will last. The duration depends on the immune system and the severity of the disease.

Toxoplasmosis In Pregnancy – A Cause For Concern?

In order to prevent it from happening in the first place, you can do a few things to avoid toxoplasmosis in pregnancy.

You should avoid raw meat completely. It is also important to make sure that the meat has been heated sufficiently before you eat it. As you already know, the parasites need a cat to lay their eggs. Accordingly, you can also have your cat tested by the vet for this disease.

During your pregnancy, you should also regularly check that you are not carrying an infection. If you do, you should start treatment immediately. This is essential to prevent subsequent damage to your baby. In the worst cases, the infection can even lead to a miscarriage.


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